Göteborg: Orpheus 360

Emil Jensen | Stora Teatern
Laleh | Scandinavium, lördag
Stor och Linda Pira | Pustervik, fredag
Göteborgs symfoniker | Konserthuset
Göteborgsoperans orkester | Operan, torsdag

Feb. 20, 2014 – review by Magnus Haglund (Göteborgs-Posten)

Det är ett förträffligt program som dirigenten Henrik Schaefer satt samman kring Orfeusmytens vandringar genom musikhistorien, från Monteverdi till våra dagar. Henrik Schaefer har ju en bakgrund som assistent till Claudio Abbado, och som idéupplägg påminner det hela om de konserter som Abbado då och då skapade i Berlin, bland annat kring Prometheusgestalten.

Under denna orkesterkonsert på Göteborgsoperan blir Orfeus begriplig som trollkarl och förvandlare. Ett sammanhang etableras där musikens urkrafter åkallas, och Orfeus kommer intill oss som ett mänskligt tillstånd, en strävan vi inte kommer undan. Högt och lågt blandar sig och det är fascinerande hur väl Offenbachs cancanouvertyr fungerar tillsammans med Harrison Birtwistles modernistiska sångsvit Nenia: The Death of Orpheus. Sopranen Cecilia Vallinder är imponerande precis och rörlig i sin gestaltning av det sistnämnda verket. Musiken är stram till sitt uttryck, men samtidigt befriande direkt.

Också barytonen Mats Persson gör en fin tolkning av Rautavaaras fem Rilkesånger. Här förtydligas det episka berättandet, känslan av minnessång och en vidare tid som strömmar genom klangerna.

Det som är så fint med den här konserten är den lätthet i allvaret som bär fram de olika verken. Henrik Schaefer har en fantastisk förmåga att hålla samman orkesterspelet. Det gäller inte minst framförandet av Stravinskys Orfeusmusik, med dess undflyende barocktablåer och beslöjade drömstämningar. Jäklar vad fint operaorkestern spelar här, så innerligt och rakt på sak. Det finns stunder när Stravinsky går utanpå det mesta och det här är en sådan kväll.

Wagner’s Ring

Richard Wagner – Der Ring des Niebelungen – Värmlandsoperan

Nya Wermlands Tidning
after Götterdämmerung

When conductor Henrik Schaefer steps out on stage with full orchestra, I have seldomly seen a happier and more exhausted man to receive the audience’s standing ovation. On this particular Sunday evening, he is worth ten opera houses filled with resounding cheers.

Göteborgsposten

Miracle in Karlstad

That in itself creates an extremely fascinating soundscape where the sound of the orchestra really becomes an integral part of the room experience. You hear all the sounds, but as if they were at the same time near and distant, almost in you and far, far away. The music becomes transparent and physically tangible and provides the singers space to a finer and more dimmed expression. (June 12 2011)

Expressen after Rheingold

Klarälvengold

Värmland Opera’s Orchestra is hidden on the top balcony and spreads an acoustic surround sound that is in perfect balance with the singers on stage. Fully in line with Wagner’s wishes that the orchestra would not be seen or be in the way of the singers in contact with the audience. Moreover, they persist with the most seductive portamenti which weld together every leitmotiv to solid gold. Conductor Henrik Schaefer not only knows exactly why but how, and therfore it is so outstandingly persuasive.

Svenska Dagbladet after the Ring

Impressive in every way

Instead of hiding under the floor as the orchestra in Bayreuth has Värmlandsoperan placed it on top of the second balcony under the ceiling. The effect is similar to the sound system of modern cinema, where the spectators are completely surrounded by speakers.

Conductor Henry Schaefers ideas to bond with performance practice in Wagner’s time means that the strings use gut strings, which is beautiful but makes the winds slightly dominate. Despite the small orchestra he creates an amazing sound which is completely in Wagner’s spirit. Just like the actually impossible idea of putting up the entire Ring des Nibelungen at the Värmland Opera in Karlstad.

Svenska Dagbladet after Siegfried

Already in the prelude can be noted how conductor Henrik Schaefer has refined his instrument. The orchestra seems to find itself increasingly comfortable up there on the second balcony. The sound fills the room but it is still easy to discern the individual instruments – for example was the piccolo straight over my head.

Svenska Dagbladet after Rheingold

In his own theater Wagner placed the orchestra under the stage floor to give the singers the best conditions. In Värmland’s own Bayreuth the orchestra sits on the second balcony in the dimly lit auditorium, and thus has a sort of his own role in the drama. It fits well with conductor Henry Schaefers quest for 1800-century practice. Some 64 strings and 6 harps which Wagner wanted to have are of course not here, but the solution provides a unique acoustic effect and excellent contact with the singers on stage.

Dagens Nyheter after Walküre

And here you notice the conductor Henry Schaefers careful preparatory work, the strings have a warm sound, the horns float in nicely among the woodwinds

Dagens Nyheter after Siegfried

Also conductor Henrik Schaefer seems to belong to those who claim that Wagner is about feeling. Sensuality is present on the gut stringed instruments, and rarely has the human side of each character become clearer than here.

Expressen Kultur

Kvar är som väl är min favorittysk i Karlstad just nu förutom Richard Wagner, dirigenten Henrik Schaefer, högt upp under taket på Värmlandsoperan.

Der Neue Merker (Vienna)

Nach Rheingold und Walküre

Also kam man auf die Idee, das gesamte Ochester mit dem Dirigenten auf den 2. Rang, also praktisch auf die Galerie unter der Decke zu verlegen. Und siehe da, man erlebt hier einen ganz und gar ungewohnten Wagner-Klang! Die Instrumente treten viel klarer als gewohnt hervor, es entsteht fast so etwas wie Quadrophonie. Man meint, man sitze mitten im Orchester, ohne dass es jedoch, von einigen Momenten abgesehen, zu laut wird. Und beim Tutti ist in diesem Rahmen von der geringen Zahl der Musiker nichts mehr zu spüren, es klingt alles sehr kompakt. Allenfalls könnten die Violinen und Bratschen etwas stärker besetzt und die Harfe hörbarer sein. Immer wieder bestechen die hervorragenden Holz- und Blechbläser. Ein besonderes Kompliment der Bassklarinette und den drei Wagner-Tuben, aber auch den drei sehr konturiert und wie alle Streicher nach Henrik Schaefers Wunsch wieder mit portamento spielenden Celli. Sie verwenden ausschliesslich Darmsaiten, um dem Originalklang zu Wagners Zeiten wieder nahezukommen. Ein äusserst interessantes Experiment, das der ausgezeichnet mit viel Verve dirigierende und immer richtige Tempi setzende Henrik Schaefer weiter verfolgen will. Ein weiteres Plus dieser Orchesteranordnung waren die viel klarer zu hörenden und besser in den Klangraum integrierten Stimmen.

Nach Siegfied und Götterdämmerung

Dass dieser „Ring“ sich völlig schloss, lag aber auch an der beherzten Heransgehensweise des dynamischen und ebenso engagierten wie fantasievollen Dirigenten HENRIK SCHAEFER. Was er mit den nur 46 Musikern da oben unter der Decke des Opernhauses zustande brachte, verlangt ganz besondere Anerkennung. Sicher, das war nie der große Wagner-Sound eines Orchesters nahe der Originalbesetzung. Konnte es ja auch gar nicht sein. Irgendwie ging einem dieser Sound im so intimen Rahmen dieses Opernhauses aber auch nicht ab. Man hörte alles viel direkter, viel mehr als sonst einzelne Instrumente, zumal die Bläser und Celli, besser heraus. Natürlich auch die Fahler, wie allzu viele Schmisse beim Siegfried-Horn. Aber man fühlte sich stets wie mitten in dieser Musik drin, sie klang von allen Seiten auf den Hörer ein und zog ihn damit unmittelbar auch in das Stück vorn auf der Bühne, wo die Stimmen klarer und prägnanter als sonst zu hören waren. Das Konzept von Ole Wiggo Bang, junge SängerInnen auf diese Weise besser am Wagner heranzuführen, ging also voll auf. Bis Mitte Juli wird die Wermland Opera diesen „Ring“ nun noch vier Mal spielen. Wem an Wagner viel liegt, sollte die Reise wagen, auch Gwyneth Jones hat sich schon angesagt…

Mozart – Die Zauberflöte


Mozart – Die Zauberflöte – Premiere in Göteborg, Nov. 28th 2009

Expressen

Enchanting Magic Flute

On top of that was the fresh musical interpretation, that conductor Henrik Schaefer had created with Gothenburg’s orchestra and Chorus, with wonderful phrasing and Mozart’s 21 bar long cadenza for the 3 ladies (…which one would have liked to listen to for another 21 bars)

Göteborgs Posten

Selfglowing and brave performance

There is a lightness in the voices which leads to a sort of trampolineffect, thanks to the congenial interpretation of the score by conductor Henrik Schaefer. The Orchestra played an immensely fine performance, with an emphasis on fast and volatile passion.

Dagens Nyheter

The magic flute at the opera in Gothenburg

Whirling ballerinas and breathtaking tempochanges characterize the staging of the magic flute at Gothenburg opera… Conductor Henrik Schaefer gives us a Mozart interpretation, which is full of swing and lightness and sometimes has breathtaking tempochanges and accelerations. On top of that we may enjoy the 21 bar long cadenza for the 3 ladies in the first act. It is an amazingly entertaining performance. A triumph for orchestra and ensemble…

Raff – Symphony No. 3 – Im Walde

Karlstad, Sweden: Thursday 2 April 2009 – review by Mark Thomas/Joachim-Raff-Society

Performances of Raff’s orchestral music have increased in recent years but they are still few and far between. Prior to this concert I had heard only four of the eleven symphonies in concert and they were mixed experiences, ranging from an impressively persuasive Second Symphony in Bamberg to a dire performance of the Fourth in Antwerp. Nonetheless, the prospect of hearing for the first time one of his symphonic masterpieces, the Symphony No. 3 Im Walde, was inevitably an alluring one.

Click here to read more…

Mahler in Italy

Marco Bizzarini, Giornale di Brescia, July 15th 2008

‘Mahler, grandiosa esecuzione per la partitura monumentale’

Con una grandiosa esecuzione della Terza Sinfonia di Mahler è stato festeggiato nel migliore dei modi – l’altra sera, a Salò -il cinquantesimo dell’«Estate musicale del Garda».

Assecondata anche da ideali condizioni meteorologiche, la serata ha mantenuto un livello artistico di prim’ordine dalla prima all’ultima nota. L’Orchestra e il Coro del Teatro Regio di Torino, circa 160 musicisti, hanno occupato una parte considerevole di piazza Duomo, sottraendo necessariamente alcune file di sedie destinate agli spettatori: ma il risultato complessivo, anche dal punto di vista acustico, era davvero magnifico.

Click here to read more…

About Sibelius 2nd

Anna Sköldh, Folkbladet

‘The best Sibelius 2nd I ever heard’

My encounter with Sibelius 2nd Symphony last Thursday will probably stay in the musical databank of my memory. This is how the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra sounds when they’re on top, led by a conductor who knows how to find the essence of the music and merge the parts to a whole. The introduction, with daring pauses and big rubati was a bit disconcerting at first, but soon I was convinced that Henrik Schaefer knew what he was doing. He build the framing structure while minding the details, thus providing a background for more lively excursions.

In the second movement nothing was left to chance, the music was chiseled and sculpted from a larger whole. Here lines and thoughts were drawn to the utter limits with evenly distributed dynamics. Here emerged the kind of high-voltage musicianship that doesn’t just appear when asked for. The third movement started off at express speed, the wind-harmonics displaying the small print. And once arriving to the wonderful theme, we were treated with a hauntingly beautiful interpretation – following the rule-book – but with it’s own key signature. Truth be told; the best Sibelius 2nd I ever heard.

About the 2007 Karlstad Parsifal

Sofia Nyblom, Svenska Dagbladet

…the emphasis seems to have been put on the musical characterization, led by Henrik Schaefer with great sensitivity in a finely elaborated rendering with a consistently vivid orchestral sound.

Thomas Anderberg, Dagens Nyheter

Karlstad Opera’s Parsifal in Karlstad Cathedral is breathtaking. An affecting encounter that effectively uses the sacred space…

Musically, it’s ravishing. The conductor Henrik Schaefer does not only have a firm hold on the form, he also manages to give the reinforced orchestra the sombre and yet shimmering tone that is unique to this work, the reed-section precise in their legato and tastefully executed portamenti in the strings – along with an excellent first trumpet.

Whatever your beliefs are: for the sake of God, get yourselves to Karlstad Cathedral and delight in this Parsifal while there is time. [2007, Feb. 28]

Lars Sjöberg, Expressen

‘The Miracle of Karlstad’

If one should refrain from the old cliché of not singling out or forgetting anyone – who shall receive the highest praise? …Henrik Schaefer, the conductor? With tender practices from older playing techniques and sound-ideals and a continuous contact with the stage and the singers he presents us with a born-again Parsifal.

During eight more performances, until March 31, Karlstad Cathedral transforms into a Grail-temple. Go there. Make a pilgrimage. [2007, Feb. 27]


Earlier reviews

Bo Lövendahl, Svenska Dagbladet

It begins well. The Mozart introduced to us by conductor Henrik Schaefer is not a weak rococo fop, but rather a clear-minded creature of the enlightenment. The brilliant ochestra of the Gothenburg Opera plays with strong dynamics, a chiseled reading of the score and a meticulous sense of detail which reminded me of the Parsifal Schaefer conducted at the Värmlands Opera last spring. [2007, Nov. 19]

Rinus Groot, Haarlemer Dagblat

…The concert started with a performance of John Adams ‘Grand pianola music’! Its first part is real minimal music. Lots of winds, two grand pianos, three singers and a lot of percussion are piling musical layers on top of each other with minimal changes in colour. That should be really boring, but when you listen carefully you can feel the subtle changes and the inner tension. The Finale of the half hour oeuvre has less nuances but is rather pompous…

The young German conductor Henrik Schaefer had the very complex sound apparatus completely under control. … Holland Symfonia ended the concert with a truly brilliant performance of Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’. Under the energetic and inspiring leadership of Henrik Schaefer, this Russian masterpiece was full of tension from the first to the last note!

The sound of the strings was dark and sonorous and one could enjoy many beautiful flute, clarinet and trumpet solos. Whatever has been said about this orchestra in the past, with this performance they presented themselves as a symphony orchestra of great potential. They exceeded all expectations. [2006, Jan. 16]

Folkbladet, Sweden

…Bruckner’s symphonies need space – both in time and mind. 4 extensive movements = 80 minutes can become just too bombastic if there is no one to control all the different energies. Henrik Schaefer was an absolutely outstanding conductor who succeeded in keeping it tight and together. The whole performance was in (sic ‘the best sense’) a sense economic, and it suited the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra admirably…

It was obvious that Schaefer (as Bruckner!) had thought through the disposition. The introduction of the first movement, returning in the last, sort of knit the music together. The first time somewhat hesitant, but when the theme returns towards the end, everything becomes clear and falls into place. Very nice!…

I liked the direct approach, it was never forced in spite of all the masses of sound. The conductor brought Bruckner down to a tangible level and seems to think that grand gestures and inflated artistic travails are to be dispensed with. Straightforwardness, simplicity and directness were the guiding lights. …

The last movement re-establishes, as I mentioned before, the first theme with soft pizzicati, but now with more depth. This is serious music that is usually played with dark undertones, but this time one could detect strokes of good-humoured frivolity – just as life itself!

The finale was played with maximum stringency, thanks to the conductor’s solid attitude. The instrumental groups were all up to par and the orchestra seemed to have adopted the conductor’s leadership in full. [2005, March]

Kenneth Walton, The Scotsman

The insistent razor-sharp beat of German conductor Henrik Schaefer brought the tangible theatricality of Cresswell’s orchestral language fully to life – no more so than in the eight character movements that make up Of Smoke and Bickering Flame, a work written last year… From the pugnacious energy of the opening ‘con fuoco’ to poking fun at Chopin, this is a work seething with colour and ripe with dramatic effect. It relies on the ability of individual sections of the orchestra to hold their own in exposed circumstances. The SSO excelled itself, heightening the performances with a true vitality and belief…Cresswell’s The Rev. Norman McCleod’s Dances and Berio’s delicious Requies completed this gutsy tribute. [2004, Nov. 11]

Conrad Wilson, The Glasgow Herald

Scotland is lucky to have a resident New Zealander in the maverick and exhilarating form of Lyell Cresswell, whose 60th birthday was celebrated by the BBC SSO last night with a bumper concert

…In terms of velocity, ferocity, irony, surrealism, send-up, sentiment, indefatigable energy and sardonic abrasiveness, this was Cresswell in all his aspects…

In these three recent works, vividly conducted by Henrik Schaefer, it was an unmistakable presence… As with Luciano Berio, whose beautifully floating Requies opened the programme, there is an ongoing quality about Cresswell’s music which is deeply rewarding. [2004, Nov. 11]

Max Stern, Jerusalem Post

His conducting and appearance emanated focus and energy from the podium. His musicianship is sound and sincere, projecting the persona of someone who is going places. Schaefer’s experience as a string player was evident in the natural feeling and fluency he brought to Bizet’s Symphony in C and Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Schaefer knows the traditions of orchestral performance, and keeps to them.

Franz Anton Cramer, Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin

Statt der ruppigen Fassung für zwei Klaviere schleicht und windet sich das Gewandhausorchester unter der Leitung von Henrik Schaefer mit unnachgiebiger Insistenz durch die atemberaubenden Rhythmen, pochenden Holzbläserbässe und vor Trieb triefenden Klangballungen. Bei aller Wuchtigkeit aber bleibt Schaefer besonnen und triumphiert nie über das choreographische Bühnengeschehen.

De Haaarlem Nieuws, Holland

In Stravinsky’s ‘Jeu des cartes’ the orchestra was in full bloom and the conductor most certainly in his element. He is presenting a very alert, light and refined Stravinsky!

Ongaku-no-tomo, Japan

Schaefer presents the essence of German beauty! The newly published Urtext of the Bärenreiter Edition was used for Schubert’s symphony No.8 ‘The Great’, expressing the work with a sublime unity. The tension Schaefer created by blending the symmetrical classical form with the fluidity of the music was simply breathtaking!